What Happened at Blessing Creek
by Naomi Kritzer
We circled our wagons at night so Reverend Dawson's magic could protect us.
The Reverend said it was the power of prayer, but Papa scoffed at that.
"He's a magician, and a good one," Papa said. "Or we wouldn't've brought him
along in the first place."
My sister Adeline liked to pretend Papa had said something shocking, but I knew
he was right. I could smell the magic on the Reverend. I could hear it humming
when he said the last words of the nightly blessing that kept out trouble --
dragons, wolves, fevers, Indians.
Adeline and I were twins, but not the sort who looked alike. She was the pretty
one, with plump pink cheeks and hair the color of summer butter. My mother said
I was the clever one, but she didn't really believe it. I wasn't pretty, though, so I
suppose she thought it would be a consolation if people thought me clever.
"Papa's right, you know," I told Adeline one night. "I can smell the magic even
now." It smelled like burnt bread, and I could hear it crackle into place beyond our
"Don't talk about your second sight, Hattie," Adeline said. "It's not ladylike. You
know what Mother says."
Mother said that every man wished he'd had a witch for a mother, but no one
wanted one as a wife. Witches were useful to have in the family. Sometimes they
could keep a child from dying of a fever, or banish mice from your grain store.
But that didn't mean anyone wanted to marry one.
"So why would you want a witch as a husband?" I muttered, half to myself.
"He's not a witch. He is a minister of the gospel."
"Hush, girls," Mother said. We were supposed to be going to sleep, even though
the grownups would be talking by the fire for hours yet. We fell silent for a few
"Anyway, that was back east they said no one wanted to marry a witch," I said.
"We're going west. Things could be different. There are dangers here."
"Not so long as we stay close to the Reverend," Adeline said.
"Do you think everyone who comes west wants to live in a town? Maybe I'll meet
a man who wants to strike out on his own."
"No man wants to be protected by his wife. Anyway, do you think you could
really make a good blessing? Just because you can smell the magic doesn't mean
you can do it."
"Girls. I don't want to tell you again."
This time I kept my peace, and after a few minutes I heard Adeline's breathing turn
quiet and steady. I stared up at the stars, still wide awake. Out in the distance,
somewhere in the darkness of the prairie, I heard a long, high-pitched cry, and then
an answering cry, further away. I sat up and looked; my mother was by the fire.
"You're perfectly safe, Hattie," she said.
"What was that?" I asked. We'd heard wolves howling a few nights ago. This was
"Probably a dragon."
"Do you think we'll see a dragon?" I asked.
"Mercy, I hope not."
"Is it true the Indians ride them?"
"I shouldn't think so. Dragons are bigger than houses and wilder than wolves."
"Do you think we'll see Indians?"
"Oh, I don't think so."
"But isn't this Indian country?"
"They'll move further west," she said. "They'll have to, now that white folks are
I thought about that a moment and then asked, "Will they be angry about having to
"That's why we brought the Reverend."
"What happens when they get all the way west? There's an ocean, they can't keep
"Go to sleep, Hattie," she said again, and this time she used a voice like she meant
We were heading into Kansas territory. Papa said the Indians here were called the
Osage, and they were a race of giants, with the shortest of their men at least as tall
as Papa. Joe Franklin, one of the men traveling with us, said they ate human flesh,
and then laughed, showing his missing front teeth. Mother frowned at him, and he
tipped his hat to her and rode off to the other end of the wagon train.
When we camped each night, before the Reverend blessed our circle, it was my job
to fetch water. That evening, I thought about what Adeline had said, and decided
to see if I could do a blessing, too. Standing in the creek bottom, I closed my eyes
and stretched out my arms. "May the Lord bless the land I stand on," I intoned,
trying to talk like the Reverend. "Lord, let us feed on Your truth. Send Your
sacred blood to purify us and strengthen us and send Angels of War to guard us
with their fiery swords --"
"Nice try, Miss Cartwright." My eyes flew open; it was Joe Franklin. "You trying
to protect yourself from anyone in specific?" He grinned at me. "I didn't think I'd
scared you that bad today."
I turned my back on him, my ears burning. I could feel the magic humming around
me; it had risen, but it hadn't really done anything. "I'm not scared."
In truth, Joe Franklin made me nervous. He liked to tell stories that weren't
proper, like the one about how he'd had his teeth knocked out in a brawl. I started
back up the path with my bucket. "Excuse me," I said, since he was blocking the
He stepped out the way, still grinning. "I could carry that for you," he offered.
"No, thank you, I am perfectly capable of carrying it myself."
Back at the camp, Papa and Reverend Dawson had their heads together over some
papers. They talked through the evening -- Mother had Adeline bring Papa his
dinner -- and I wasn't surprised when we didn't go anywhere come morning. The
men rode out, and Mother told me they'd decided we'd come far enough west and
were looking to find the best place for our town. We camped there for two days,
while they thought about it, and finally on the third day they moved us a half-mile
up the creek, and Reverend Dawson blessed the new town. They dug a hole, and
he buried a bag he'd brought with him from the east, and all the men helped fill in
the hole, a little at a time. Then above the hole they put a sign saying town of
Papa took us out riding that afternoon. The creek led up to a river not too far away,
with trees we could cut to build our houses. The prairie stretched wide around us;
it would be easy to get lost here, down in the grass.
"This is an ugly place," Adeline said. "I miss Ohio."
"This land will never love us," Papa said, patting her on the arm. "Not like it loves
the Indians. But we'll teach it to serve us well enough. We've got seeds, and
livestock, and there's good hunting here -- even those dragons! Not that you'd
want to eat a dragon, but think how little dragonskin goes into a pair of dragon
leather boots, and think how much those cost."
Adeline sniffed. "Yes, but what good will that money do us here? There's
nowhere to spend it!"
"Oh, that's true now. But more wagon trains are on their way. And once Blessing
is up and running, even more people will come. It'll be a real town soon enough,
and we won't have the troubles we had in Ohio." Papa had been in business in
Ohio -- well, really, he'd been in several businesses in Ohio. None of them lasted
very long. "Things will be grand here," Papa said. "You'll see."
Adeline pouted a bit more. I looked out at the prairie again, and pointed to a thin
line of smoke rising up from the prairie that stretched west from Blessing. "What's
There was an encampment of Osage Indians less than two miles from Blessing.
Papa told Mother they hadn't realized that, when they picked this spot for the town.
The Osage might have been off hunting, so our men saw no smoke from their fires
when they were scouting.
But it was too late to move the town now. They'd buried the relics and put up the
sign; they didn't have another bag. Mother was coldly furious, and Adeline wept
in the wagon, saying she was frightened.
Adeline had always been made of softer stuff than I. When we were little and a boy
at school left a snake on the desk Adeline and I shared, she screamed and ran away.
I was the one who grabbed the snake by its tail and dropped it down the shirt of the
boy who'd left it for us. Still, she hadn't ever been a fainting hysteric. The longer
we stayed, the jumpier she got.
"What does the Reverend's magic smell like, Hattie?" she asked one night as we
were going to bed.
"I thought you didn't want me talking about it."
"Does it smell different than it used to?" she asked.
It did, actually. "You can smell it?" I said, surprised.
"No!" she said. "Of course not! It's just --"
"You can smell it," I said.
"What if he led us here on purpose?" Adeline said. "What if he's working with the
Indians, what if it's a trap?"
"Don't be ridiculous," I said, and pulled the covers over my head. She didn't say
anything more, but I heard her inhale a long breath, then another, like she was
trying to smell the magic.
A week passed. I held my tongue and fetched water and carried it around to the
men as they worked. Adeline was supposed to help, but she said it was too
frightening to go down to the creek bottom, so it all fell on me. Fortunately, Joe
Franklin was busy cutting wood, so I didn't run into him in the creek bottom again,
but I had to tolerate him grinning at me over the ladle when I offered him water.
I was terribly tired by late afternoon, and at first I didn't notice the long shadow
moving in the grass as I was hauling the bucket out. Then I thought maybe it was
Joe Franklin. But when I turned to look, I saw a dragon, crawling in the grass
I saw it for just an instant, so close I could have reached out to steal one of its crest
feathers. It was scarlet and gold, with scales on its belly and its long, snake-like
neck, and soft down rippling along its wings, which were folded to let it creep
along on the claws on its wing tips. Its mouth opened, and I could see rows of
long, sharp teeth.
I drew in my breath to scream, turning toward camp hoping to see anyone at all,
even Joe Franklin, but my mouth was dry and all that came out was a croak. I
turned back and the dragon was gone. Instead, I saw an Indian wearing a dragon-skin cloak, which he slipped off his shoulders and left on the ground at his feet. He
took a step forward but held up his empty hands to show he had no weapon. "I
won't hurt you," he said in English.
He was tall, as tall as Papa, but not a giant, and his head was shaved except for a
bit in the back, and a feather -- one of the dragon feathers -- stuck out of his hair.
He wore no shirt, and had designs painted on his face and body. I was so relieved
that he was just an Indian, rather than a dragon, that I answered him.
"What do you want?" I said.
"I bring a message for your people," he said. "Will you carry it?"
"Yes," I said.
"We belong to this land. You do not. You need to leave."
I laughed out loud. "They're not going to move the town on my say-so," I said.
"The men picked the spot. Do you think they're going to pack up and go back to
"That is my message," he said. "Will you carry it?"
"Yes, but --"
"That's all I ask," he said. He picked up his cloak and walked away, back toward
the Osage camp.
I carried my bucket up to our camp -- our town, they said I should call it, but it
still looked like a camp. My father and Reverend Dawson were looking over
papers again. "Papa?" I said softly, my bucket still in my hands.
"I'm rather busy right now, Hattie."
"There was an Indian at the creek who wanted me to tell you something," I said.
He laid his papers down. "An Indian approached you?" He shot an accusing look
at Reverend Dawson.
"Yes, Papa, an Indian man."
"What did he want?"
"He said that he wanted me to carry a message."
"He said this land is theirs and not ours, and we have to leave."
They burst out laughing and I said, "I told him no one was going to leave. I said.
But he said --"
"It's all right, Hattie," Papa said, clapping me on the shoulder. "You did well to
come to us. I don't expect you'll see him again, but if you do, tell him my message
for his people is that the clever ants are the ones that get out of the way when the
buffalo are coming."
I didn't see the Indian again -- at least not right away. But it was clear enough we
weren't going anywhere. The Reverend renewed the blessing every night and
every morning, and for a time, the building and planting continued undisturbed.
Then one of the men went out hunting and didn't come back. His horse didn't
come back, either. He was just gone, vanished into the prairie. Joe Franklin was
furious about it; he hadn't even been friends with the man, but kept saying it could
have been any of us. He wanted to teach the Indians a lesson.
"You're safe as long as you stay near the town," Reverend Dawson said. "He was
probably eaten by a dragon."
"The dragons don't eat anyone the Indians don't tell them to eat," Joe Franklin
said. "Everyone knows that."
"We're not strong enough yet to take on the Indians directly," Reverend Dawson
said. "Show some patience."
He ordered the men to stay in pairs, when they went out, so they could watch each
other's backs. No one else disappeared, and we all relaxed for a bit.
Then the dragon came.
Adeline saw it first -- way, way up in the sky, so high up it was barely a dot. But
then it circled down toward us, and first it looked like a bird, and then it looked
like a really big bird, and then it was low enough that we could see the sun glint off
the scales on its enormous neck. From here, the downy feathers on its wings
looked like scales as well, and I tried not to think about the dragon I thought I'd
seen down by the creek. This one was a darker red, with glinting orange on its
neck. The tips of its wings were yellow.
"It can't come close enough to hurt us," the Reverend Dawson said.
No one was listening. It wasn't exactly that they didn't believe him. It was more
that they could see the dragon, and how big it was, and how big its claws were, and
how sharp its teeth were. And they couldn't see the magic. Even I couldn't see it,
though I knew it was there.
Around and around it circled, lower and lower. It was Adeline who started the
panic -- Adeline only ran as far as our wagon, and hid under a blanket, but there
were others who started to run, or who grabbed horses and took off at a gallop.
"I can't protect you!" Reverend Dawson shouted. "If you leave the town, God's
mercy will not shelter you!"
Mother stood frozen but Papa never doubted. He ran into the wagon to drag
Adeline back out. I think he had some idea that if he could force Adeline to calm
down, the others who were running away would come back. When Papa brought
her out, Reverend Dawson grabbed her around the waist and shouted, "By the
Power of Christ's purifying blood, I banish the demon of fear! I banish the demon
of panic! I cast out the demon of disobedience . . ."
The dragon swooped down. One of the men from the wagon train must have
gotten just far enough on his horse to be outside the protection of the blessing. We
saw him when the dragon rose again with the man in its teeth. I could see the
man's legs kicking, like a chicken's right after you slaughter it.
"Stop," Adeline screamed. "Make him let me go, he's going to give us all to the
dragon," and too late, we all saw a knife in her hand.
We laid Reverend Dawson's body next to the Town of Blessing sign. Mother
dosed Adeline with laudanum and left her to sleep in one of the wagons. She'd
been mad with fear, Papa said; it wasn't her fault. Perhaps the Indians had
bewitched her, which wouldn't be her fault either.
Six of the people from town had run when the dragon came. Three slunk back,
quiet and ashamed.
"What are we going to do now?" I asked my father. I could hear the hum of the
magic still, but it would fade soon, without Reverend Dawson renewing it. Other
wagon trains might be coming, and they surely had magicians of their own, but
we'd never last that long.
"We're not going to leave, if that's what you're thinking," Papa said. His arm
tightened around me. "We're never going back. This land is ours, now."
"But without the Reverend Dawson --"
"We don't need the Reverend Dawson. We have you."
"Papa, I tried once to do a blessing, on my own. I couldn't do it."
"That's all right," he said. "Wait till tonight. When we bury the Reverend. You'll
Papa sent me to bed, but then woke me when the moon rose. Mother slept next to
Adeline, ready with another dose of her medicines if Adeline stirred. Papa led me
out to the Town of Blessing sign, where the Reverend's body still lay. Someone
had built a fire, and the men were gathered in a circle.
"What's the girl doing here?" one of the men asked.
"Oh, she belongs here," Joe Franklin said, and grinned. "Unless you want to turn
around and go back to Ohio."
"Who has the knife?" Papa asked.
"I've got it." Joe Franklin handed it to Papa. "Did you tell her what's going to
Papa shook his head. "Sit quietly, Hattie, and do exactly as I tell you." He raised
his knife over the Reverend, and then gave me another brief look. "Don't scream,"
I covered my mouth with my hands as Papa plunged the knife into the Reverend's
chest, used his fingers to crack open his ribs, and carved the heart from his body.
Papa laid the heart on a slab of wood and cut it into pieces.
He picked up the first piece, and ate it. Then he speared another piece with the
knife, and offered it to Joe Franklin, who stuck it in his mouth and chewed. One
by one, every one of the men ate a piece of Reverend Dawson's heart. One piece
was left, and Papa picked it up in his fingers. "Open your mouth, Hattie," he said.
"I don't want to," I said, my voice shaking.
"Do you want to be a proper magician, like the Reverend was? Or do you want to
be a puny little witch all your life? Eat the heart."
I closed my eyes and bit down. It was salty and tough, and I actually swallowed it
When you eat the heart of a magician, some of his power passes to you. In my
dreams, Joe Franklin was the one explaining, even though it was my father who
told me these things before sending me back to my bed. Of course there are things
that make it work better. If you kill the man yourself, for instance. Shame it wasn't
you that drove the knife in, if we had to lose the Reverend.
"Why not have Adeline eat it, then?" I asked.
A weak, sniveling, useless little bit like your twin? he said. No, Hattie. If anyone's
going to bless the town and have it stick, it's going to be you.
Papa shook me awake at dawn and led me to the Town of Blessing sign. I folded
my hands and listened for the magic. Reverend Dawson had always spoken his
blessings out loud, but I thought now that wasn't strictly necessary. I closed my
eyes and told it to shape itself around us: keep out dragons, keep out Indians, keep
out malice and misfortune and everything else Reverend Dawson had mentioned in
any of his blessings. I heard it all fall into place like musical notes forming a
There, that's done, I thought, and then looked around at the expectant faces of the
men surrounding me. They couldn't hear it. So I cleared my throat and said, "God
bless us and keep us safe, for ever and ever, amen."
"Do you think that really worked?" one of the men asked Papa.
"It worked," I said.
Papa gave me an appraising look and said, "I think that should keep us as safe as
the Reverend's blessings, yes."
The dragon came again a day later.
It couldn't get through my blessing, any more than it could get through Reverend
Dawson's, and this time no one ran away, but it drove Adeline fair mad and
Mother had to dose her to make her sleep again. Afterward I saw Mother measure
the medicine in the bottle and sigh deeply. "It won't last long, not at this rate," she
said to Papa.
I was sitting with Adeline when she woke. "The dragon's gone," I told her as she
"I hear them laughing," she muttered.
"No one's laughing at you," I said. "They know you're just frightened. But you
need to control yourself when it comes next time."
"I hear the dragons when I sleep," Adeline said.
She was hearing my magic, I thought. Even if she didn't want to admit it. "If you
just admit you can smell the magic, maybe I can help you," I said.
She came fully awake then and gave me a haughty glare -- her old self again.
"You know it's not ladylike to talk about these things," she said.
I sighed and stood up. "I'll send Mother in to sit with you, since you're feeling
better," I said.
I sat down outside in the shade, and Papa came to sit beside me. "Tell me again
about that Indian you saw," he said.
"He didn't look very old," I said. "He was tall, and had a shaved head with a
feather, and he said --"
"I remember what he said. Did he walk right up to you?"
"Yes, by the creek. I turned around and he was standing there." I decided not to
mention the dragon. Papa would think I was as crazy as Adeline.
"He must have been their magician," Papa said. "To get through the blessing like
"I guess," I said. "Or maybe the Reverend didn't bless the creek that day."
"What was he wearing?"
"A cloak of dragon skin on the top half," I said. "Deerskin on the lower, I think.
A loincloth and leg coverings. He had a dragon crest feather in his hair."
Papa nodded. "Some of the men have seen him from a distance. I think it's time
we bring him back for another visit."
After I started doing the morning blessing, Papa stopped having me carry water. In
fact, everyone wanted me to keep as close to the center of Blessing as possible, and
I sat in the shade and watched everyone else work, just like Reverend Dawson had.
Even Joe Franklin stopped grinning at me. When he did look at me, which wasn't
often, it was with wary respect.
I wondered what would happen when another wagon train arrived. Would their
magician take over and send me back to carry water again? Girls could grow up to
be witches, but I'd never known a girl to be a proper Minister. Then again, things
were different here on the frontier.
For now, at least, I was well-protected. Papa decided I shouldn't even sleep by
Adeline anymore, lest she wake up crazed with fear in the night. And yet the
Osage sent out their magician like a scout, even after he'd delivered that warning.
Surely they knew what would happen.
Surely we should have suspected they knew.
Joe Franklin was in the party that caught him and brought him back. I heard the
triumphant shouts as they crossed the boundary into Blessing, and sure enough Joe
Franklin and his friends rode straight to me and Papa. Joe Franklin pushed the
Indian off his horse so he landed at our feet. They'd bound him, and he landed
hard, but made no sound. Papa rolled him onto his back and smiled up at Joe
Franklin. "You did well, Franklin," he said. "Is this the Indian you met, Hattie?"
I looked down at him. His face was swelling, where someone had hit him hard,
and the dragonskin cloak was gone. "Yes," I said. "I think so."
The Indian kept his eyes closed, but I saw a flicker when he heard my voice.
"We should do it by moonlight," Joe Franklin said, and grinned at my father.
"Of course. I'll keep an eye on him till then," Papa said.
Papa tied him to the Town of Blessing sign, and watched him from the shade just
to be sure he didn't get loose.
"What is Joe Franklin going to do?" I asked.
"Franklin's not doing anything, Hattie. It's you who's going to do it," he said.
"Remember what I told you about power? You eat his heart, you'll be able to
control the dragons, just like he does. Dragons are wild creatures, wilder than
wolves. It must be their magic that does it. If we eat his heart and burn his body,
we'll steal what we can of his magic and destroy the rest."
His eyes were open now, I realized. He was watching us. He looked very calm for
someone hearing about how people were going to eat his heart. "You're saying I
need to kill that man and rip his heart out?"
"You need to kill him," Papa said. "I can take out his heart for you, but you should
be the one to do the killing. It shouldn't be so hard to eat it afterward. You've
done it once now."
Papa sounded perfectly calm about it. I decided I needed to take a walk, and for
once, Papa let me go.
Mother was sitting in one of the half-finished houses, making fried bread and
"They brought back the Indian," I said.
"Well, thank goodness," Mother said. "It's a fine thing, don't you think? Should
solve a lot of our problems."
"Do you know what Papa wants me to do?" I asked.
Mother sighed deeply. "I wasn't happy when he had you take over for the
Reverend. Magic isn't ladylike. I've said it before and I'll say it again. But I
don't see as we had much choice. We had to have some sort of protection."
"But now he wants me to --"
"Shhh," she interrupted. "You don't want to disturb your sister. She might get
upset." Adeline was sitting in the shade at the back of the house, mending socks.
"We're almost out of medicine. I don't know what we're going to do once that's
gone. I might not be able to control her, if she tries to run out where the dragon
could catch her. If the dragon stops coming -- well, that'll be much better, don't
"Of course," I said. "Of course I want the dragon to stop coming."
"Well, then you'll need to learn to control it, won't you? It's not as if anyone else
here can do it."
Back by the sign, Joe Franklin had taken over guarding the Indian, but he shuffled
off a bit when he saw me coming. I sat down in the shade again. The Indianlooked at me and said, "Hello, Hattie."
"How do you know my name?" I asked.
"Your people talk about you. They fear you."
"Joe Franklin is frightened, and that's fine with me."
"Cut me loose," the Indian said. "I can take you to the village of my people. Your
sister, too. You can go to the house of the chief and ask for protection and you'llget it. The Osage revere those with your gift, whether they be men or women."
"I can see your gift around you like the feathers of a bird," he said. "You are
already greater than your Reverend ever would have been. You could command
the skies and bring rain, you could call the buffalo and the geese, you could tell the
fire to return to the earth, if you studied with the Little Old Men and grew to
"Or I could take the power from you," I said.
"You will regret it," he said.
"How is it you speak English so well?" I asked him. "Did you learn it from eating
"No. For a time I was a scout for a white Army general."
"So you worked for white people but now you've turned against us?"
"You don't belong here," he said. "We do. Listen to me, Hattie. If you don't
want to live with my people, persuade yours to turn back. You'll be safe if you're
"I should persuade people? Why would they listen to me?"
"They have to listen to you. If you refuse to protect them, they'll lose everything."
I strode away angrily and went to walk the borders of the town. The dragon was
nowhere to be seen today, but in the waving grasses beyond our border I thought I
could smell someone else's magic. Join the Indians? And yet he hadn't answered
me when I asked whether they really revered white magicians like their own. This
Indian had been a scout for white men -- for years, probably, judging from how
well he spoke English. But he'd never truly been one of us, that was obvious, and
I'd never truly be one of them either. They might not kill me, if I asked for
protection, but I didn't trust his offer one bit.
So then -- go back? Adeline would like nothing better than to return to Ohio
where she could forget all about dragons and Indians and the blood-stained dress
that Mother had scrubbed but would never be clean. She was the pretty one; she
could marry some solid man who would give her the quiet life she needed. Papa
would be furious with me, of course. I didn't care to think about that too much.
What would I do in Ohio? Neither clever nor pretty, a magician and a girl, I
supposed I could set up shop as a particularly powerful witch. If I had the power
in me to learn to command the skies, then surely I could learn to dowse or deliver
babies. There was an old lady in Cleveland, she had a very nice house and it
wasn't so bad to be on the outskirts of town. I could be the favorite aunt to
No, I thought. I want the freedom of the frontier. There's nowhere but Blessing
that I can be who I am.
It was me and the men, once again, who gathered in the moonlight. Papa took me
aside first and showed me a pistol. "I thought this might be easiest for you. Just
put it to his head and pull the trigger. I'll take care of the rest."
They'd built up a bonfire nearby. Reverend Dawson's remains had been buried
next to the Town of Blessing sign, because some of his magic would linger to
protect the town. The Indian's remains would be burned.
My hands were slippery with sweat; I had to keep wiping them on my skirt.
Joe Franklin put a blindfold on the Indian. "Consider yourself lucky," he said to
the Indian, loud enough that I could hear him. "They gave Hattie a gun to make it
quick. If it were up to me I'd do it with a knife and I'd take my time."
I stared at the Indian from the edge of the circle of firelight. My hands were
shaking. Papa put his hand on my shoulder and walked me forward, then placed
the pistol in my hand, wrapping my fingers around it. It was cold and smooth, and
my hands were shaking, still slippery. As I started to raise the pistol, it slipped and
I dropped it. It didn't go off, just hit the ground next to my foot with a thud. I
heard the Indian's breath catch. "You still have a choice," he said, very quietly.
I crouched down to pick up the gun. "I think you're going to have to do it," Joe
Franklin said to Papa. "I don't think she's got --"
"She'll do it," Papa said.
I picked up the gun, holding it in both hands this time, and looked at the Indian.
He stood still, and I thought his eyes, under the blindfold, were open and looking at
me. I took a deep breath, then pressed the gun against his head.
The gun didn't slip as I pulled the trigger.
The noise was deafening, and I gasped and stepped back. My hand felt bruised
from the gun's recoil, and the Indian's head was nearly gone, reduced to a bloody
mess; Joe Franklin had been caught in the spray of his blood, and he wiped it
calmly off the side of his face. The Indian's body hung limp, and Papa shouldered
me aside to cut him loose and lay him on the ground. He took out the knife.
"Wake the women," he said to one of the other men as he worked. "This time
"No," Papa said. "No, not Adeline. But everyone else."
The women joined the circle as Papa cut the heart into pieces, and I watched as my
mother ate a piece, and the other wives. Papa saved the last piece for me. The
Reverend's heart had tasted salty and tough, but the Indian's burned like fire in my
mouth, and I could barely swallow it. Tears came to my eyes, and I turned away so
that no one would think I was crying from fear or sorrow.
"Go to bed, Hattie," Papa said. "We'll take care of the rest of him."
In my sleep, I heard the scream of a thousand dragons, and I looked up to see a vast
flock blackening the sky. "Stop," I shouted up at them. "Go away. I can
command the skies!" They didn't listen to me.
Instead, they dived down like eagles seeking prey and seized us all. I tried to run,
in the dream, but my feet stuck to the ground. I tried to call for help, but the words
stuck in my throat. And then dragon claws were tearing into me, and there was
nothing I could do, and I thought I would wake, as I'd had enough nightmares to
recognize one for what it was, but instead I found myself back on the prairie,
looking up at a thousand dragons blackening the sky . . .
And now I heard the war-cry of Indians, and they rode toward us on horseback.
"Stop," I shouted, but the hoof-beats shook the ground like an earthquake. I tried to
run, but I couldn't, and I tried to call for help, but no sound emerged, and the
horses rode over me like grass and I thought I would wake . . .
. . . the fire was coming, it was coming, sweeping through the prairie, burning dry
grass, the wall of flame, I could feel the heat of the monster no one could possibly
outrun . . .
Where was Adeline? Where was Adeline?
"Wake up! Wake up!"
Adeline was shaking my shoulders, sobbing hysterically.
"Hattie, wake up. Oh, why won't anyone wake up? Wake up," she wailed.
"I'm awake," I muttered, but I wasn't, not really. When I forced my eyes open I
could see Adeline's face, but as soon as I closed them the flames roared around me
again. The sun scorched my eyes as I opened them; it was broad day, and I needed
to renew the blessing. I could hear the magic roaring around me but when I
reached for it, it burned me like fire . . .
Where is Adeline? Where? Where?
"I'm right here, Hattie." Adeline's voice was dull and quiet. "I've been right here
the whole time."
I opened my eyes and sat up. The dreams were gone. I was damp, and my mouth
felt coarse and sticky. It was dark, and no fire burned. I could make out the town
around me in the moonlight, but only just.
"I'm all right," I said to Adeline, sitting up. "I'm myself -- what happened?"
"I woke up four days ago," Adeline said. "And everyone was asleep. You, Papa,
Mother . . . everyone but me. When I tried to wake up Papa, he thrashed and
shouted about dragons. Mother was the same. And you. And everyone. I've been
waiting and waiting for the Indians to come and finish us off, but they haven't . . ."
"Can I have something to drink?" I croaked, and Adeline burst into tears and
handed me a ladle. I drank deeply.
"I sat by you," Adeline said, "because you were the only one I could get to take
water at all. Sometimes you'd wake up just a little, and I could make you swallow
some. Mother -- Papa --"
"Well, maybe they'll wake now," I said cheerfully, and tried to stand. My legs
didn't want to obey me. "Can you help me up?"
Adeline shook her head. "They're all gone," she said. "I couldn't make them
drink, and in the sun . . . they're all dead, Hattie. Mother, Papa, Joe Franklin,
everyone but you and me."
The Indian magician came at dawn. She was an old woman, old enough to be a
grandmother, and when I smelled her magic I thought she could probably
command the skies, the winds, the buffalo herds, and the dragons.
"You were warned," she said.
"Yes," I said.
"You made your choice."
There wasn't much point in arguing. "Adeline didn't," I said.
"That's true," she said. "Your sister can remain with us. She will be safe here, and
can rest and recover. If she chooses to return to your people in a year or two, we
will guide her back."
"What about me?" I asked.
"We gave you a message," she said. "The man you murdered, Sees-Far, gave you
a message. We belong to this land. Your people do not. We're sending you back
with that message. Give it to the rest of your people."
"What if they don't listen?"
"Then perhaps they will eat your poisoned heart, and suffer your fate."
I still hear the dragons in my dreams. Sometimes they speak to me in Sees-Far's
voice. Sometimes they speak to me in Adeline's; sometimes they say nothing I can
understand. They no longer eat me, night after night. Only sometimes.
In these dreams, the power I ripped from Sees-Far rises up around me like a prairie
fire: wild, powerful, and utterly beyond my control. I wonder sometimes what this
power would have felt like if I'd freed Sees-Far and gone to his people to ask for
protection. If I'd asked to learn, instead of trying to swallow him up.
Oh, I've asked for forgiveness. I've asked for comfort; I've asked for release. So
far, all have been denied me.
Perhaps, my friend, you would like to take this burden from me. You could bind
me, wait for darkness, devour my heart and with it the power I can neither use nor
bear. Perhaps it was not the great power of the Osage, but my own weakness that
led to what happened at Blessing Creek. You are strong; you are clever; you are
confident. Maybe you could eat my heart and my power and turn it back against
the ones that Sees-Far sacrificed himself to protect.
Or perhaps you will listen, as I did not.
If you are wise, friend, you will turn back here.